Update Report No. 8: Ethiopia-Eritrea
Expected Council Action
The Council is considering a resolution that would end the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia-Eritrea (UNMEE) but there are divisions on whether to establish a military observer group, on the Ethiopian side of the border as a replacement or to ask the Secretary-General for specific recommendations to set up a new mission at a later date.
Key Developments and Background
The UNMEE mandate expires on 31 July but Council members are keen to act on the issue well in advance of the expiry date. A draft resolution, circulated by Belgium, would “terminate” UNMEE’s mandate with immediate effect but emphasise the continuation of the obligations of both parties under the 2000 Algiers agreement. The draft also proposes two options for the future:
deployment of a military UN Observer Mission for Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNOMEE), based in Ethiopia, until 31 December. Its mandate would be to report developments that could undermine the peace process promote confidence building measures and help mediate incidents along the border.
request ask the Secretary-General to draw up proposals for a future UN presence.
Eritrea, in a letter on 18 June from President Isaias Afwerki, said the only issue was Ethiopian withdrawal from its territories, adding that the UN cannot have legal authority to legitimise occupation.” Ethiopian Minister Meles Zenawi, in a 17 June letter, said Ethiopia was open to a UN presence, providing it did not imply or signify a “continuation whatsoever of UNMEE under a new arrangement.” He said he doubted anyone “would quarrel with the idea that this whole episode has not been exactly edifying for the Council.” It seems that Ethiopia prefers two separate resolutions.
UNMEE was established pursuant to the Algiers Ceasefire Agreement which ended the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean border war in which tens of thousands were killed.
In November 2007, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (also established under the Algiers Agreement) dissolved itself, having delineated a “virtual” border in 2002. But it was unable to demarcate the frontier on the ground because Ethiopia rejected the binding ruling that the disputed town of Badme should go to Eritrea. Eritrea subsequently blamed the United Nations for not enforcing the Commission’s decisions.
In violation of the Algiers Agreement, Eritrea moved troops into the buffer zone, called the Temporary Security Zone. Ethiopia carried out exercises in areas adjacent to the 25 kilometre-wide zone. Asmara placed severe restrictions on the movement of UNMEE and in late 2007 cut fuel supplies for the peacekeepers. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in February relocated UNMEE troops out of Eritrea. Some remaining military personnel were relocated to Ethiopia.
In a report to the Council on 7 April, the Secretary-General presented several options. These included an observer mission in the border area, liaison offices in Asmara and Addis, or termination of the mandate. He warned, however, that the complete withdrawal of UNMEE could risk a resumption “of open hostilities”. On 30 April, the Council in a statement said Eritrea’s “obstructions” of UNMEE had undermined the basis for the UN mission, and urged both countries to refrain from threatening to use force against each other.
The underlying issue is the risk of resumed warfare between the two nations. The border dispute has progressively widened with conflict spilling over into Sudan, Somalia and very recently Djibouti—which serves as the main port for Ethiopian goods. (On 10 June, conflict erupted between Djibouti and Eritrea on the Red Sea shores. Djibouti reported at least 12 of its soldiers dead and 55 wounded. The Council issued a statement on 12 June condemning Eritrea’s military action and urging both parties to resolve the dispute peacefully.)
Immediate issues include whether to simply terminate UNMEE or whether to look at a range of measures to resolve the underlying problem.
The Council could press Ethiopia to accept the boundary commission decision by imposing sanctions. But this is unlikely. The Council could simply establish a UN buffer group of observers. Alternatively it could go further and begin to address the physical border demarcation issues and promote a dialogue between the two countries.
Council members seem equally divided between those favouring a military observer presence and those seeking a more far reaching strategy to address the underlying problems. Some are concerned that a failure to address the underlying issues will be interpreted as taking Ethiopia’s side.
Human Rights Watch, Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Ogaden Area of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State, 12 June 2008.
International Crisis Group, Beyond the Fragile Peace Between Ethiopia and Eritrea: Averting New War, Africa Report N°141, 17 June 2008